My 15 Minutes with John Malkovich

Hartford Courant


In the 1999 Spike Jonze-Charlie Kaufman film "Being John Malkovich," people paid $200 to spend 15 minutes to enter a portal into the actor's mind.

On Tuesday, I was given 15 minutes with the 57-year-old actor, not nearly enough time to get inside his mind, so to speak, but sufficient none-the-less to get some interesting information.

My portral was an average looking door of a small room off the lobby of the Quick Center for the Arts at Fairfield University where the actor, who just arrived at the center after having stopped off at Rawley's hot dog stand in Fairfield.

Malkovich was here to present for one night the unusual theatrical event: "The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer." (The show will play the Brooklyn Academey of Music Thursday through Saturday.) The show features his solo narration as serial killer Jack Unterweger, two opera sopranos (with super-titles) and a 31-piece mostly string orchestra.

Malkovich looked fit and fine, wore a multi-layered outfit, topped with a scarf. He spoke earnestly in a soft-spoken, intimate voice.

"I just thought it would make a very good story to go along with this kind of music," he says, crediting his friend Martin Haselbock with the concept and music direction. (The show is staged by Michael Sturminger.)

"And because Martin has an orchestra in California and in Vienna I was thinking of something that would have some oomph for both places. Unteweger killed women in both Los Angeles and Austria.

"The first piece Martin has me listen to was Don Juan's descent into hell and a very good book about Unterweger by an American writer, Jonathan Leake, called 'Descent into Hades' and I just thought it would make an interesting piece of theater. It was something we could do with the music and with the arias without a lot of fuss."

But why use music, an orchestra and the opera singers to tell the story?

With the music, he says, "it represent in some way -- not in an exact way -- but in an emotional way, the stories, the journeys, of the victims."

 Malkovich says if this was just a solo show for an actor the women would not be represented "and it wouldn't be interesting -- at least not to me. But you could do it. My friends [actor] Billy [William]  Peterson and [director] Robert Falls did a stage version of "In the Belly of the Beasty' [based on nhe writings of killer Jack Henry Abbott]. But that was different because Abbott wrote one spectacularly good book and Unterweger wasn't a very good writer. And though Abbott was violent, he was not a serial killer."

I mentioned a quote attributed to Malkovich: "I'm drawn to characters with a lack of humanity."

"I said that once as a joke in an interview, based on so many journalists asking me why I played so many bad people. Everyone has humanity. Even Unterweger had humanity--  but what good is that.

Untemeyer was paroled after being convicted of murder and serving time, only to kill a series of women in Austria and California. Does this make him question efforts to reform and redemption?

"Reform is possible. We dont have a  choice. If we canty find a way to make amends for the things weve done wrong -- and by this i dont mean by murdering 11 women -- that would be a very hard life, a little too hard for me."

He says other than "The Infernal Comedy" and another opera-theater piece he has no plans to return to the stage in the near future as an actor, though he is directing "Les Liaisons Dangereuse" in Paris which opens in January.

The other "chamber opera play" with Haselbock  is "The Giacomo Variations," based on the stories of Casanova. It opens in Mexico City in mid-April.

"I love working with these and in these other disciplines," he says.







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